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Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell not expected to play in Game 1 vs. Memphis Grizzlies, sources say

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Utah Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell isn’t expected to play against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series on Sunday night, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Mitchell has been working toward his return from a sprained right ankle. He has been sidelined for five weeks after suffering the injury on April 16 against the Indiana Pacers.

Before his injury, Mitchell averaged a career-high 26.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in 53 regular-season games. The two-time All-Star averaged 36.3 points while shooting nearly 53% during the playoffs last season.

Top-seeded Utah won all three games this season against Memphis, seeded No. 8, while averaging 118.0 points. Mitchell averaged 35.0 points on 60% shooting in those games.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul’s Game 4 woes ‘a blip’ on radar, Monty Williams says

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PHOENIX — After coming up small in what would have been the biggest win of his career, missing out on taking a 3-1 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals, Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul went to the tape.

Just like Paul and teammate Devin Booker reviewed the film from Game 3, finding cracks in the Bucks’ defense that Booker could exploit as his scoring output ballooned from 10 points in Game 3 to 42 in Game 4, the backcourt mates watched the fourth quarter from Wednesday’s 109-103 loss almost immediately after the game was over to find ways for Paul to improve.

There’s seemingly nowhere for Paul to go but up after he finished with 10 points on 5-for-13 shooting and five turnovers, matching the amount of miscues that Milwaukee had as a team.

While Paul’s disappointment of going back home tied at 2-2 rather than being one win away from the first championship of his 16-year career goes without saying, Suns coach Monty Williams said he hasn’t noticed any change in his demeanor.

“I just seeing Chris being Chris,” Williams said after practice Friday. “He’s always intentional about everything. He’s focused. I find myself struggling when I can’t help him. That’s what we’ve talked about the last couple of days. But Chris is fine. He’s focused. He’s always about winning.”

The Suns went 2-0 at home to start the Finals and Paul shined, averaging 27.5 points and 9.5 assists. When the series moved to Milwaukee, Paul’s game went south, putting up 14.5 points and 8 assists in Games 3 and 4.

“The conversations are all about basketball right now. We know what’s in front of us,” Williams said. “You know Chris Paul, I mean, everybody in here has seen him. There’s not a person in our locker room that’s not expecting him to not come out and play really well the next game. … His focus is at a high, high level right now.”

Paul looked so off in Game 4 that some wondered if the partially torn ligaments in his right hand, which he suffered in the conference finals, had flared up.

“No, I’m good,” Paul assured, when asked about the hand on Friday.

Williams backed up Paul’s claim of a clean bill of health.

“Yeah, he’s fine,” Williams said. “Other than having to deal with me, he’s good.”

While two of Paul’s turnovers helped fuel a 17-8 run by the Bucks in the final four minutes — after the Suns led for 38 of the 44 minutes preceding that — Paul said the benefit of playing for as long as he has is being able to move forward, be it coming off an inspiring win or a crushing loss.

“It’s something I don’t dwell on. Even though it may be an anomaly, it happens. I turned the ball over hella times before,” Paul said. “End of the day, we got to win the game. Me turning the ball over is not giving us enough shots at the basket. I’ll figure it out.”

Williams’ dismissed Paul’s Game 4 struggles, calling them merely “a blip” on the radar in an otherwise surefire Hall of Fame career.

Paul said it’s only right that the Finals would be hard, considering all the heartbreak he dealt with on the court in 16 years to get here.

“I hate it, but it’s that simple,” Paul said. “We didn’t sweep but one series, so this is what happens in a series. That’s why they make it seven games. This is the Finals. It’s dramatic. We got to protect home court and win the game tomorrow.”

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Giannis Antetokounmpo still awed by block, but ready to shift focus to Game 5 of NBA Finals

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PHOENIX — Two days after Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ridiculous block of Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton‘s dunk attempt late in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Finals helped save Milwaukee’s season, he still can’t explain exactly how he was able to pull it off.

“It’s incredible what your body is [able] to do,” Antetokounmpo said Friday. “When you think about winning, you go to the extreme.

“I cannot explain the play. But, at the end of the day, that’s in the past. When you talk about the past, that’s your ego talking. It’s in the past. It’s over with.

“I got to move on. I got to keep making winning plays. I got to keep competing. I got to keep finding ways to help my team be great. Great moment. I appreciate the moment. Great moment. [But] we got to move on.”

The basketball world, on the other hand, has done little moving on in the 40 or so hours since Antetokounmpo’s block with 74 seconds to go in Game 4, preserving Milwaukee’s two-point lead in the moment and helping the Bucks even the series at two games apiece as it shifts back to Phoenix for Game 5 Saturday night.

There have been comparisons to LeBron James‘ epic block of Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, and debates rage over which of them was the more impressive play, along with other great blocks from past playoffs.

For Antetokounmpo, the focus is on something much more tangible: getting a victory in Game 5, which would allow Milwaukee to have the opportunity to claim its first championship in a half-century with a win back at Fiserv Forum Tuesday night in Game 6.

It’s an approach that has come from past experiences, and learning about the perils of feeling too good after one strong performance.

“I think I would say life. Usually, from my experience, when I think about like, ‘Oh, yeah, I did this, I’m so great, I had 30, I had 25-10-10,’ whatever the case might be … usually, the next day, you’re going to suck, you know?” Antetokounmpo said with a smile. “Simple as that. The next few days you’re going to be terrible.

“I figured out a mindset to have that when you focus on the past, that’s your ego. ‘I did this. We were able to beat this team 4-0. I did this in the past. I won that in the past.’ When I focus on the future, it’s my pride. ‘Yeah, next game, Game 5, I do this and this and this. I’m going to dominate.’ That’s your pride talking. It doesn’t happen. You’re right here.

“I kind of try to focus on the moment, in the present. That’s humility. That’s being humble. That’s not setting no expectation. That’s going out there, enjoying the game, competing at a high level. I think I’ve had people throughout my life that helped me with that. But that is a skill that I’ve tried to, like, kind of … master it. It’s been working so far, so I’m not going to stop.”

If Antetokounmpo’s play is any guide, he shouldn’t be changing much of anything about his approach. Through the first four games of these NBA Finals, Antetokounmpo is averaging 32.3 points, 14.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists, and has generally been able to get whatever he’s wanted.

Even in Game 4, after which he admitted he could’ve been more aggressive, he finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks in 43 minutes.

More importantly for the Bucks, they’ve been able to dig themselves out of an 0-2 hole to begin a playoff series for the second time in these playoffs, and to recover from a deficit in the series for a third straight time. The past two postseasons, the Bucks have faltered when challenged — first by the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals, then last year in the Eastern Conference semifinals by the Miami Heat in the NBA’s bubble.

So what’s changed this time around?

“I think we worked extremely hard throughout the year building winning habits,” Antetokounmpo said. “Just every game competing. I feel like when you compete every game, you put yourself in a position to win.

“We don’t worry about the outcome. We don’t worry about the score. We just worry about going out there, making many plays, competing as hard as we possibly can, doing it together. Sometimes when you are down 0-1 or down 0-2, whatever the case might be, you don’t really care about that. You care about how can you get one, how can you get a second one. Then you kind of build momentum and good things happen.

“So I think we got to give credit to all the winning habits we built throughout the year that we are able to know that when we’re down, we still figure out ways to win games.”

After winning both games in Milwaukee to even the series, it’s now up to the Bucks to find a way to steal one on the road and officially take control of the series in Game 5.

They’ll hope to do so by sticking to the same script that got them back into this series — and the same one that has caused them to dig themselves out of multiple deficits to advance in these playoffs.

“Same focus, same intent we’ve been having this whole run,” Bucks guard Khris Middleton said. “Stay locked in, play the right way, compete, play as hard as we can. That’s it.”

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Lloyd Pierce, Ronald Nored, Mike Weinar, Jenny Boucek join Indiana Pacers coaching staff

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers hired Lloyd Pierce, Ronald Nored, Mike Weinar and Jenny Boucek as assistant coaches for new head coach Rick Carlisle on Friday.

Pierce was head coach of the Atlanta Hawks for the past two and a half seasons before he was fired in March. He is an assistant coach for the U.S. men’s team heading to Japan for the Olympics next week.

Nored, a former star at Butler in Indianapolis, spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach for the Charlotte Hornets.

Both Weiner and Boucek worked under Carlisle in Dallas. Weiner spent 13 seasons with the Mavericks, including four as an assistant, and Boucek was an assistant the past three. Boucek also was a player development coach with the Sacramento Kings, becoming just the third woman to coach in the NBA.

Carlisle was hired last month to replace Nate Bjorkgren. Carlisle is 836-689 overall, including an earlier stint with Indiana. He went 555-478 with the Mavericks and led Dallas to its only NBA championship in 2010-11.

The Mavs have not won a playoff series since and Carlisle’s departure was part of a front-office shakeup in Dallas.

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